Robert F. Kennedy Funeral Train: The People's View

From 26 January to 12 May 2019 the Nederlands Fotomuseum will present the exhibition Robert F. Kennedy Funeral Train – The People’s View. For this project, artist Rein Jelle Terpstra has created a visual reconstruction of the ‘funeral train’ – the train that, on 8 June 1968, transported the mortal remains of the murdered politician Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) from New York to Washington D.C. - from the point of view of people who lined the track to pay their last respects. The exhibition will feature a wall-mounted installation, created from original snapshots collected by Terpstra, and a video compilation of home movies and snapshots projected on five screens.

Robert F. Kennedy Funeral Train – The People’s View was exhibited last year at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the International Center of Photography in New York, and was later presented at the international photography festival Les Rencontres d’Arles. This presentation at the Nederlands Fotomuseum will be the first in any museum in Europe.

The People’s View Project
Rein Jelle Terpstra (b. 1960) became fascinated by the work RFK Funeral Train, made by the American photographer Paul Fusco (b. 1930). On 8 June 1968, thousands of people lined the railway track from New York to Washington D.C. to pay their last respects to Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who had been murdered just days before. Fusco was on board the same train, from which he took pictures of the grieving crowds.

Terpstra was struck by the way the people were looking at the train and he started wondering about their point of view. He decided to reverse Fusco’s perspective and began an intensive search for the people’s view: the photographs and films taken by the spectators standing along the railway tracks that day.

Terpstra not only placed appeals in local newspapers and on social media, but also travelled the route taken by the train. He hung around on small-town railway stations and knocked on people’s doors. Finally, he used the many images he found to reconstruct what he calls ‘the people’s view’: not the view of the professional photographer on board the train, but that of the eyewitnesses standing beside the tracks. With Robert F. Kennedy Funeral Train – The People’s View, Terpstra has added an important chapter to the visual history of the United States.

This exhibition will feature a number of previously unpublished photographs by Paul Fusco, a wall-mounted installation created from original snapshots collected by Terpstra, and a video compilation of home movies and snapshots projected on five screens. The soundscape accompanying the video is composed of original recordings made along the railway line on the historic day, together with oral accounts of the event, the year (1968) and the role of Robert F. Kennedy. In addition to all this, the show will include dozens of written reminiscences shared with Terpstra by people who witnessed the event.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a book published by Fw:Books, like-wise entitled Robert F. Kennedy Funeral Train – The People’s View. The book features ten previously unpublished photographs by Paul Fusco, a broad selection of collected snapshots and filmstills, an introduction by Rein Jelle Terpstra, dozens of personal reminiscences from eyewitnesses and essays by David Levi Strauss, Taco Hidde Bakker and Rein Jelle Terpstra.

Ever since his residency at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam, Rein Jelle Terpstra (b. 1960) has been researching the relationship between photography, perception and the absence of the photographic image. This has produced an archive of amateur photographs so far numbering about 50,000 images, various slideshow installations and artist’s books, including the installation After Images (about photos that were never taken), which was purchased by the Nederlands Fotomuseum in 2010, and Retracing (about the memory of images among people who are about to lose their sight, 2013). Terpstra’s work can be found in the collections of e.g. the MoMA Library and the New York Public Library in New York, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels, and the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. Terpstra was nominated for the Dutch Doc Award in 2014. He teaches photography at the Minerva Art Academy in Groningen. In 2017 Terpstra used a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in Washington D.C. to work on the Robert F. Kennedy Funeral Train project.

Lead Benefactors




Special thanks to: Paul and Marina Fusco, Susan Meiselas and Kristen Lubben (Magnum Foundation), San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art (Clément Chéroux and Linde B. Lehtinen), James Danziger Gallery and all the American people who helped Terpstra realise this project.

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